India vs Afghanistan: Can Rahane & Co match Rashid's fury in one-off test?

Indian cricket team player K L Rahul during a practice session on the eve of their maiden cricket test match against Afghanistan, in Bengaluru. Photo: PTI
It will be a momentous occasion for Afghanistan, which is set to become the 12th test playing nation, when its debutant team clashes with India in a one-off test at M Chinnaswamy stadium in Bengaluru on Thursday. Like Ireland, who played their first test against Pakistan a few days ago, Afghanistan are not in it to just be in it. They will go out to give stiff competition to the Number-1 test side, India. “In my opinion, we have good spinners, better spinners than India,” said Afghanistan captain Asghar Stanikzai. On the other hand, Virat-less India have a number questions to ponder over as they were playing their first long format cricket after South Africa series.

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Afghanistan’s biggest strength is their spin attack led Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman. But their batting looks brittle as they don’t have the experience to stick to the crease when conditions are not batsmen friendly. Also, in the ICC World Cup Qualifier 2018, their batting looked half-baked. However, the Afghanistan team management will look to use the experience of Mohammad Shahzad, Asghar Stanikzai, Rahmat Shah, Nabi, Javed Ahmadi and others, who score runs in different conditions against varied bowling attacks in limited-over cricket. The major worry for Afghanistan is the pace attack which lacks expertise, and could falter if the pitch supports fast bowling, given the rainy season in South India.


On the other hand, a depleted Indian side has to answer a lot of questions after having rested Captain Virat Kohli, and premier fast bowlers Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah. The openers and middle order failed miserably in South Africa and with Virat Kohli unavailable, the onus of holding the middle order rests on stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane's shoulders. However, the comeback of Karun Nair, who scored triple century in his first match, is likely to give some impetus to the middle order. The other major worry for India is the opening stand and with Murali Vijay being the first choice test opener, Shikhar Dhawan and K L Rahul have been playing musical chair. In South Africa, Dhawan was dropped from the team after the first test while Rahul scored only 30 runs in four innings. It is most likely that Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja will lead the spin attack, while pace will have Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma. Medium pacer Hardik Pandya gives the required cushion to the bowling line-up.


In the absence of Wriddhiman Saha, Dinesh Karthik has the opportunity to represent the national side in Test after eight years. He will look to cash in on this chance given his recent form, and the inconsistent performance of Saha. A good show in a one-off test against Afghanistan might get him a place in the England tour.


What will be the Bengaluru pitch condition between India vs Afghanistan?

The previous match at Chinnaswamy stadium in Bengaluru was played on a turning track as India defeated Australia. But this time around, the pitch is likely to support pace bowling given that Bengaluru has witnessed intermittent rains during the past fortnight. Also, the Indian team management would want to have a seamer-friendly track as they tour England after Afghanistan. The pace-friendly track will reduce Afghanistan's threat of four frontline spinners in the squad.


Team Squad:

Ajinkya Rahane (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, KL Rahul, Karun Nair, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Hardik Pandya, Shardul Thakur, Navdeep Saini, Ravichandran Ashwin. Ravindra Jadeja. Kuldeep Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav.


Afghanistan: Ashgar Stanikzai, Mohammed Shahzad, Javed Ahmadi, Rahmat Shah, Ihsanullah Janat, Nasir Jamal, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Afsar Zazai, Mohammed Nabi, Rashid Khan, Zahir Khan, Amir Hamza Hotak, Sayed Ahmad Shirzad, Yamin Ahmadzai Wafadar, Mujeeb ur Rahman.


What players said ahead of the one-off India vs Afghanistan test, starting June 14 at M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru:


Afghanistan skipper Asghar Stanikzai on the Indian spin Attack: Ahead of their Test debut against India this week, Afghanistan captain Asghar Stanikzai had no hesitations in claiming that his side's spinners are better than star Indian duo of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. "The whole world knows that (we have good spinners like) Rashid Khan, Mujeeb, Nabi, Rahmat (Shah), Zahir (Khan). In Afghanistan, the brilliant thing is that a lot of the young talent that is coming through are spinners, because they all follow Rashid, they follow Nabi, so because of that our spin department is very strong from below. In my opinion, we have good spinners, better spinners than India " said Stanikzai.


What Ajinkya Rahane said ahead of one-off test against Afghanistan: India captain Ajinkya Rahane termed it is a "privilege" to be a part of a historic first Test match against Afghanistan. It's a privilege to be playing in Afghanistan's first Test match. It's a historic moment for them and an opportunity for us to be part of the occasion," Rahane was quoted as saying in an ICC release. They have a fine team and some talented players, who have proved themselves in shorter formats. I am sure they are looking forward to do the same in Test cricket. On behalf of the Indian team, I wish them all the best.


Shami fails Yo-Yo Test, Navdeep Saini gets maiden Test call-up: Troubled India speedster Mohammed Shami failed the Yo-Yo fitness test, prompting the selectors to summon rookie Delhi speedster Navdeep Saini for the one-off Test against Afghanistan starting June 14. Saini is currently one of the quickest red ball bowlers in domestic circuit and has been touted by many as one for the future after his consistent Ranji Trophy performance in the past two seasons. Saini is part of the four-day set-up of the India A team and is set to travel to UK next month. The 25-year-old has so far played 31 first-class games, taking 96 wickets.


Navdeep Saini on being selected in Indian national cricket team and Gautam Gambhir's role in his career: Navdeep Saini had never bowled with a red leather ball until one fine day he got a chance to bowl during Delhi Ranji team's net session at the Roshanara cricket ground on a pleasant December morning in 2013. Till then, Saini had only played tennis ball tournaments to earn a pocket money ranging from a meagre Rs 250 to Rs 500 per match. He didn't have an idea what he should be doing with the Red SG Test ball but Gautam Gambhir came to his rescue. "Gautam bhaiya told me "Jaise tennis ball se dalta hai, waise hi dal. Koi tension nahi. Baaki sab theek ho jayega (Just bowl like you bowl with a tennis ball. Everything will fall in place). I did what he told me and today I am here because of him. I don't know whenever I speak about Gautam Gambhir, I get emotional," an elated Saini told PTI after receiving his maiden call-up to the Indian senior team for the Afghanistan Test.


What Ajinkya Rahane said on the eve of Afghanistan test in Bengaluru: No longer a certainty in the shorter formats, India's stand-in Test captain Ajinkya Rahane said he will talk to the national selection committee in order to get a clearer picture about his mode of preparation for the upcoming Test series in England. After the one-off Afghanistan Test match, Rahane has nothing to look forward to as he has been dropped from the limited-overs side which is going to UK first. The Test series against England is scheduled to start on August 1 after a limited-overs series featuring three T20 Internationals and an equal number of ODIs beginning July 3. Asked what will he do for the next one and half months, a normally defensive Rahane let his guard down for moment. "See, I don't know what's going to happen after this Test match. But yeah, I will definitely have a word with the selectors," Rahane's indecisiveness was palpable before he again tightened his defences.


Karun Nair on his comeback after 2 years: Karun Nair says he is a much-improved batsman than he was two years ago when he hit triple century in his debut match and has his focus firmly set on his comeback Test against Afghanistan rather than the following A tour of the United Kingdom. "I have become fitter. For one-and-a-half years I have been out of the team and making efforts to improve my skills. I have worked on batting and fitness. I scored runs in domestic cricket. I know for myself, I am a better batsman than what I was two years ago," said Nair ahead of the one-off Test against Afghanistan. Talking about India's opponents in the Bengaluru Test, Nair did not read much into words of Afghanistan captain Asghar Stanikzai, who called his spin attack better than the hosts'. "I think that is a pretty big statement to make, considering they haven't played Test cricket. I think all of our spinners are proven wicket-takers in Test cricket."


I didn't lose my place to a normal cricketer, it was Dhoni, says Karthik: It wasn't easy being Dinesh Karthik in an era where Mahendra Singh Dhoni redefined the role of a keeper-batsman. Having last played a Test match way back in 2010, Karthik, during all these years of soul searching, was honest in his analysis as to why he didn't get a chance to wear the white flannels -- "he was not good enough in presence of a special player like Dhoni". "Look, I think I wasn't good enough, rather I was not consistent enough. That was a highly competitive environment and there was someone called MS Dhoni breathing down my neck, which caused a lot of stir in world cricket at that point of time. He went on to become one of the greatest captains India has ever produced," Karthik said ahead of his comeback Test against Afghanistan. Karthik, who came in as a replacement to injured Wriddhiman Saha, has not played 87 Tests since he played the last of his 23 Tests against Bangladesh in 2010. In fact, a statistician will reveal the plight of the keepers during Dhoni era'. Karthik's 87 Test match gap is an Indian record but then the earlier record was held by Parthiv Patel, who made a comeback after 83 Test matches and eight year hiatus from the longest format.

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